Teachers need time, technology and strategies to personalize a student’s journey

Focusing on the student-teacher relationship doesn’t mean telling teachers to connect and engage students, and then walking away. Nor is it about finding the best technology to take over as much teaching as possible.
Jamie Candee
Jamie Candee
Jamie Candee is the CEO of Edmentum.

Among K12 district leaders, there are growing concerns about declining student engagement. I’ve worked with thousands of school districts across the country and many leaders have expressed that the challenge extends well beyond a post-COVID pandemic fallout.

Students are struggling with what is happening around them at school and at home, including managing their mental health and stress. District leaders are concerned about student well-being as well as how a lack of engagement is connected to other issues.

Research shows engagement levels are closely connected to academic outcomes. Additionally, district leaders report that a lack of engagement plays a role in behavior issues, chronic absenteeism and a lack of academic progress. In a recent survey, 58% of district leaders connected disengagement to learning loss.

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To recapture student engagement and get students back on track, district leaders need to support teachers with the strategies, technology and time to personalize a student’s journey.

Enabling deeper student connections

Boosting student engagement starts with supporting teachers in what they do best: connecting with their students. Research demonstrates strong learner-educator connections can lead to students earning higher grades, building a deeper connection to school and feeling included and respected. These factor into engagement as well.

Focusing on the student-teacher relationship doesn’t mean telling teachers to connect and engage students, and then walking away. Nor is it about finding the best technology to take over as much teaching as possible.

Instead, district leaders need to give teachers the support they need to create personalized learning experiences. Yes, technology is an essential piece of enabling personalized approaches efficiently, but students still perform best when teachers are driving instruction.

District leaders need to introduce technology that enables teachers to shape the experience, including:

  • Expanding choice: A lack of engagement can sometimes be a lack of emotional engagement with a subject. Teachers who can connect students’ interests with classroom content have a better chance of encouraging students to be curious, passionate and connected to what they’re learning. A digital curriculum that expands course choice can help students stay on track in school while also engaging them in topics they’re interested in learning without requiring additional teaching staff or time.
  • Tailoring interventions: Measuring engagement is complicated. Educators can’t rely on just one input to determine whether a student is engaged or not. Incorporating diagnostic assessments can help educators understand on a deeper level what students know and identify ways to motivate them intrinsically and extrinsically.
  • Emphasizing process with AI: The focus of using AI has often been on how students might use the tool to disengage and not complete their work. But AI can be an engagement tool that personalizes learning. Instead of punishing students for using a tool like ChatGPT, teachers can encourage them to use it to brainstorm and organize their thoughts, and then dedicate class time to analyze what the tool produced and identify ways a student should adapt it to their point of view.

Engaging students on multiple levels

Beyond adding more moments where teachers can easily draw students in, personalizing learning with technology can help educators tap into all styles of engagement. Too often student engagement is misunderstood as just basic compliance with classroom expectations.

But truly engaged students are connecting behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally. Without all three, the experience may be unbalanced, or a student’s progress may be misunderstood. For example, students who aren’t emotionally engaged, even if they are paying attention, may be less motivated when they encounter challenging topics.

Given the connections between engagement and absenteeism, classroom behavior, and learning loss, it’s essential district leaders empower educators with personalized learning strategies and smart technology. With a multi-dimensional engagement strategy, teachers can build stronger connections with students that deepen their learning and resolve some of today’s biggest classroom challenges.

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